Author: Katherine Longshore
Read by: Jennifer Ikeda
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Length: Approximately 8 hours and 46 min
Source: Penguin Audio Digital Review Copy – Thank-you!
I am obsessed with Henry VIII and have been since watching him in my childhood for the first time on Bewitched. I remember thinking, who is that fat man and why is he chasing Samantha? As I grew older, I grew more intrigued with the history of how Henry came to the throne, his obsession with having a male heir, his six wives, his breaking with the church. I love to read non-fiction, historical fiction, and watch endless movies, TV shows, etc. about the Tudors and Henry VIII in particular. The endless interpretations fascinate me.
Gilt is a young adult historical fiction novel about Henry’s ill-fated fifth wife, Catherine Howard as narrated by her best friend, Katherine "Kitty" Tylney. Catherine or “Cat” and Kitty grow up in Chesworth House, presided over by the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk. Both of their families entrusted them to the Dowager Duchess when they were little girls, but their trust was misplaced. Not knowing their birth families, and with a very lax caretaker in the Dowager Duchess, the two girls only have each other and the group of girls they are cloistered with. They spend their days as typical teenage girls, thinking about fine clothes and boys. Without parental figures, Cat’s excesses are allowed to shine, which mostly includes her doing inappropriate things with the young men of the household. Kitty is “Cat’s shadow” and spends her time enabling her friend against her better judgment.
As a member of the Howard family, Cat is chosen as a lady in waiting for Henry VIII’s fourth queen, Anne of Cleves. She soon catches the King’s eye and in short order becomes his fifth queen when Anne of Cleves was cast aside. She brought her friends from the Dowager Duchess’ household to court with her to be her ladies in waiting, including her best friend Kitty. Kitty finds herself caught between two men and living a life that is not the honorable life she would have wanted for herself. Cat builds herself a house of cards, professing love for the King, but also feeling entitled to a young and handsome lover in the King’s household, Thomas Culpeper. When it all comes tumbling down, Cat and Kitty finds themselves in a very precarious situation.
I enjoyed this audiobook. While sometimes the modern slang in a historical novel was jarring, overall, I thought it was a very relatable young adult novel. Cat is a sympathetic mean girl that coerces her friends to do things they don’t want to do in order to get what she wants. Knowing her upbringing though, makes one realize that she never had the role model or parenting that she needed. Being pretty and a Howard, she was allowed to do as she pleased without realizing any consequences until it was too late. I liked how Kitty was a constant and true friend, although I did really want her to toss Cat aside and go off with her true love. I’m ready for another book to find out if she got her happy ending.
I also thought the novel had an interesting take on Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford. Jane’s testimony of incest between her husband George and his sister, Anne Boleyn, helped to put them both on the chopping block. When she aides and abets Cat in her affair with Culpeper, she finally has gone too far. I loved the nuances, like when Kitty discovers Jane carries Anne Boleyn’s necklace with her and fingers it when she feels nervous or scared. Jane thought she had figured out how to survive at court, but did it make it a life worth living?
I also liked how Cat gets angry at how Henry VIII takes a new married lover while she is in jail. It was a very hypocritical world where the King was allowed lovers and wives galore, but his wives were not allowed the same freedom or to have ever known a man before they were married to him. Marrying a 15 or so year old girl to a fat, sickly, 50 year old man just sounds like a recipe for trouble.
I enjoyed Jennifer Ikeda as the narrator and I also really loved the period music at the beginning, end, and at chapter breaks of the audiobook. It was a great audio enhancement.
Overall, I really enjoyed Gilt. If you are looking for a fun, young adult look at Catherine Howard and the scandals at court, look no farther. Poor Catherine would have still be reading young adult novels when her life ended. This book kept me riveted even though I knew how it would end.